Social media’s essential role in serious journalism can no longer be ignored. Next year, social media journalism will finally grow up.
Journalism will be more collaborative, embracing the fundamental social nature of the Internet. The story will be shaped by people involved in the news, curated by savvy editors from diverse sources and circulated back again to the audience. This is the new real-time news cycle.
It is telling and fitting that next year’s Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting will be judged for the first time based on real-time reporting. A Pulitzer Prize for tweeting was a joke just a few years ago. It’s now a reality.
Take Occupy Wall Street. Even in New York, with its swarms of professional journalists, social media illuminated the protests and insured that the movement’s story was told. When police blocked media access and detained card-carrying members of the press, live-streamed videos from participants and students curating social media stepped in.
Looking at the Occupy movement itself hints at where journalism will go in its decentralized, real-time, collaborative, and curated future.
News will break on whatever website or format lends itself to the story, and be even more likely to happen away from news organizations’ homepages. Whether via a Livestream feed, an answer to a Quora question, or an Instagram photo, the story will splinter further, evolving from a singular product into something much more dynamic and multi-dimensional.
Audiences expect to see news at Internet speed, and have no patience for conventional journalists to wake up to this reality. News consumers should be able to learn about important issues as quickly as they can see what a friend is listening to on Spotify through Facebook’s new seamless social sharing.
With the decline in journalism staffs, the audiences and participants involved in the news are also more involved than ever before in telling their own stories. Reporters will increasingly open their process and discuss stories as they’re developing; they’ll also be more willing to talk candidly about what they do and don’t know. They will increasingly crowdsource their coverage, asking their audiences for input in their stories. And they’ll become more collaborative with fellow journalists, as well, soliciting information and sharing their work.
Bringing all these elements together will underscore the importance of curation. Journalists have always taken masses of information and condensed it into something digestible for readers, adding context and insights. More than ever, journalists will curate sources outside their newsrooms to tell their stories.
Social media journalism can do better than snark. Following the death this week of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, there were the usual social media roundups of clever one-liners and LOLcat mashups. But we need to push the boundaries of how social media can be used to report on an event that throws an entire continent into a state of uncertainty over a potentially unstable, nuclear-armed state.
The protesters occupied Wall Street to prompt a national debate on widening disparities in wealth and opportunity. It’s up to the new generation of social media journalists to #Occupythenews — and to make sure society doesn’t miss the stories that, diffuse and elusive though they may be, are crucial to understanding our world.